Friday, July 31, 2009

Travels in Siberia - 1

by Ian Frazier

I don't read a lot of travelogues, and I don't know why that is, because I often enjoy them.

In this, the first of two articles, Ian Frazier heads into Siberia in a beat-up old van, with the head of the robotics lab at the St. Petersburg Polytechnical University as his driver, and with an alpinist building renovator as a companion (somehow, writing this sentence conjures up a reverse-Borat in my mind, but that's not accurate).

Along the way, Frazier supplies a great amount of historical and geographical detail about this gigantic expanse of land that takes up one twelth of all land on the planet.

Most interesting to me were the attempts made by Frazier and crew to discover the remnants of the Trakt, the old road used by exiles on their way into Siberia. It's no longer used, but its remains can be found near the modern road, still exhibiting the tell-tale mounds of the graves of those who could not manage the voyage by foot.

I look forward to the completion of this article next week.

Aqua Leung Vol. 1

Written by Mark Smith
Art by Paul Maybury

Aqua Leung is an enjoyable fantasy epic, where the young Aqua, son of the murdered king of the seven seas, must go on three quests in order to regain his throne and begin the arduous task of uniting the different sea kingdoms. In terms of set up, it's pretty standard for this type of tale - there are friends that journey with him, and things are tough and stuff.

From this rather common premise though, comes a very charming story. Aqua's a bit of a smartmouth, having been raised on land. The pacing of the book is excellent, and characters are likeable.

The art in the book is stunning. Maybury's work reminds me a little of Cloonan and Lolos, so I was sold pretty quickly. There are some amazing double-page spreads, as young Aqua goes up against some very, very large enemies. The book has a very interesting sense of design - the undersea characters reflect their species, yet are something else entirely. The aesthetic of the characters are equally compelling - Aqua wears loin clothes and feathers a lot - it's a strange look.

My complaint with the book is that while it is set underwater, aside from a few token references to that, the book looks like it is taking place on land. No one swims anywhere. People walk for miles. Aqua has to carry rocks up a large set of stairs. That doesn't make sense within the context of the setting. This has been an issue in underwater comics forever, but it's almost like the creators here just decided to ignore the water aspect completely. It kept pulling me out of the story.

It's a shame there won't be more volumes of this title (apparently Smith and Maybury don't get along), as it is a fun adventure comic.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

La Llama

by Savath y Savalas

This is a very beautiful, if difficult to describe, album. Savath y Savalas are made up of Guillermo Scott-Heron (aka Prefuse 73), Eva Puyuelo Muns, and Roberto Carlos Lange. The Stones Throw website refers to the album as Catalan acid-folk which I suppose might work as a description.

Basically, the album has a lot of slow, sometimes morose, sometimes calm, singing in Catalan or Portuguese (not sure which) over an ambient, Brazilian inflected background. It works very nicely as background music, and is easy to drift off to.

The Buddha of Suburbia

by Hanif Kureishi

This is not really my usual type of thing, but this book was recommended by a friend who said I'd enjoy it, and she was right.

Kureishi writes a very convincing tale of a mixed Indian/British kid growing up in 70s London. Karim lacks goals or a plan, and is instead happy to kind of drift along, always on the look out for sexual opportunity. His father meets Eva, who encourages his 'spiritual' side, as he starts to experiment with his own brand of Buddhism, and then market it to the bored and lost of suburban London.

Eventually, Haroon, the father, leaves his wife, and Karim moves in to Eva's with him. From there, the new family works hard to position themselves into a higher level of society, as they engage with the arts community. Karim eventually gets into theatre, and begins to leave his family and family friends behind.

Kureishi's novel has a couple of clear strengths. He does an amazing job of depicting the aimlessness and confusion of youth. Karim struggles with many moral decisions, and his sense of distance from things is very truthful and feels accurate. The other strength is in the characters - Kureishi's characters brush up against some stereotypes - especially Anwar and Changez - but still become their own, fully realized individuals.

Normally I don't like reading British writers - the theme of class is brutal to me, but I did like this book.

Ignition City #4

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

I was enjoying Ignition City just fine, and then Ellis went and added the character of Dr. Vukovic, making the book even better. This is a standard Ellis character - very smart, irreverent, and a little random. He's the final ingredient needed to make this the best of the recent Ellis Avatar books.

I'm quite looking forward to the final issue of this book, as I want to know what secrets Mary's father discovered about the land outside the city.

Unknown Soldier #10

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

I love this title. It would be so easy, in this African incarnation of the classic war character, to restrict this book to a simple action/adventure movie, with CIA agents and brainwashing programs. Those elements are all here, but they are secondary to the story of Uganda.

In this issue, Moses gets into an argument with Angelina Jolie (sorry, Margaret Wells) about what she, or any other celebrity, can accomplish in the midst of an African civil war. "Investments in our markets! Honest trade with the outside world! Micro-loan agencies! Stable banks! Leaders who give a fuck! That's what we need!" he yells - dialogue better suited to an issue of the New Internationalist than to a Vertigo comic. And that's why I love it.

This issue also gives us a look at Paul, the kid that Moses rescued a little while back. He's learning to draw. It's a simple pair of scenes to bookend this issue, but I think its very effective at reminding us what some of the stakes in this conflict are.

Adding to the brilliance of this book, and the wonderful art, is the addition of David Johnson as cover artist. Check out the weapons that Moses is using on the cover. There's a lot to think about with this book, and it's worth more peoples' time to read it.

Proof #22

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo and Wes Wedman

This 'Julia' arc has been moving at a glacial pace. After last issue dispatched Springheel Jack, I figured this issue would be used to bring some closure (such as it is) to Proof's relationship with Julia, which did happen. But there's still another issue to go....

This is still a great book, it's just getting a little more decompressed than I would like. One thing that worked really well in this issue is the way the story jumped up to modern day, as Proof was telling the tale to his friends. It added a sense of reflection to the story.

The back-up tale, as usual, was cute and enjoyable. I wouldn't have thought that the Chupacabra would stick around in this book so long.

A New Page

by Nicholson Baker

When I saw that the New Yorker had Nicholson Baker reviewing the Kindle, the electronic reader being aggressively marketed by Amazon, I thought who better than the man who can almost fetishize small, everyday events (like in his brilliant article on nail clippers year ago).

Baker remains more objective than I would have expected. He is the guy who owns a warehouse full of old newspapers, because he didn't want them to be cut up or recycled. He does do a pretty solid job of explaining why the Kindle does not work as a replacement for reading old-fashioned books and magazines.

From the sound of things, the Kindle is too gray and bland to enjoy reading, and it suffers from a lack of ability to properly reproduce illustrations or charts. This makes me question the wisdom of comic companies like Archaia signing up to produce 'Kindle-only' comics.... Baker also discusses the aesthetics of the device, and the difficulty of using the buttons.

What I found most amusing is the way in which Baker goes about purchasing books on his Kindle. Perhaps there is a paucity of quality releases (he does list quite a few things that you can't buy on it), but as a former book-store snob, I loved his references to writers like Mary Higgins Clark.

If you're thinking about dropping the $400 to buy one of these, I recommend you read this article first.

Northlanders #19

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

Now this is a comic. Northlanders has been nailing it with every issue lately, but this two-parter featuring the incomparable Danijel Zezelj is probably my favourite arc on this book so far.

Our trio of Danish women hold out against the Saxon forces in their ruined Roman fort in this issue. They have an amusing conversation with a priest (who looks like Friar Tuck), and continue to explore 9th Century Viking feminism.

I have no idea if women at that time would have demonstrated the attitudes depicted here, but Wood makes a convincing argument. He also displays once again his ability to conjure up full-cloth characters in a very short amount of space. This is brilliant work.

Rapture #3

by Michael Avon Oeming and Taki Soma

I'm increasingly finding myself on the fence with this title, and I'm not sure what's not working. The art is great - I've always enjoyed Oeming's work. The concept is very strong - a post-Apocalyptic world where people are used to having heroes do everything for them, but there are no heroes left. I like the separated lovers hook, and the Spectre character looks very cool. Oh, and there's cannibals (the new zombies?).

So I'm not sure why this book is impressing me more. Partly, I think it's because Evelyn is not a likable character, but then, that doesn't usually stop me from enjoying a comic.

It could be that this is just an 'off' issue. I'll see what next month brings.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Battlefields: The Tankies #3

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra and Hector Ezquerra

This was the strangest of the three Battlefields mini-series. The first gave us a story told from both sides or perspectives in the war. The second was the most tightly-plotted thing that Ennis has written in years. This one was one of the loosest.

I expected that the various groups of characters that have been in this book since the beginning might meet up at some point. I also expected that some major battle might get fought. Not really. Perhaps this adds a layer of veracity to the war story - it's a lot of driving around lost, followed by some waiting. As a plot for a comic, it's strange though.

That said, I enjoyed this series, and I'm pleased to read that Ennis is bringing it back for three more series next year. I'm in.

Rawbone #3

Written by Jamie Delano
Art by Ryan Waterhouse

I'm not sure where I stand on this title now. At first, I was enjoying Delano's overbearing prose, but this issue didn't seem to be quite as turgid as the previous ones.

The story has been interesting enough, but I haven't really felt like there was anything new going on in it.

The art is quite nice at times, but it is clear in this issue that the only monkeys Ryan Waterhouse has ever seen are the ones in the old Planet of the Apes movies - this monkey is really just a small child in a mask. It's awful.

I thought this was only a three-issue series, but apparently there's another chapter coming. I have no idea when though, or if it was even solicited. Honestly, I usually expect more from Avatar (and Delano).

Fear Agent #27

Written by Rick Remender and Macon Blair
Art by Mike Hawthorne, Tony Moore, John Lucas, and Antonio Fuso

I'm really pleased that Rick Remender and Tony Moore have found such success at Marvel. They are two of my favourite 'independent' creators, and I'm very happy to see that they are reaching wider audiences, and one would assume, making more money. I have been following both of their efforts, and must say that titles like Punisher and Ghost Rider have never been so readable.

That said, I'm sad that Fear Agent has had to suffer for it. This book was supposed to be out in November, but it's all love. I am happy to see that there is one more story arc after this one, even if it's going to take a while to appear.

In this issue, Remender wraps up a lot of plots and issues going back almost to the start of the title, and then does that thing he always does in this comic, and screws Heath over right at the very end, again. It is that quality that has made this book so enjoyable, and I'm glad that things are going to stay unpredictable right until the very end.

The art team of Hawthorne, Moore, and Lucas gives the book a rougher, more scratchy quality than is usual when Moore's on the title, but it still looks good.

The 'Tales' story by Blair and Fuso has all the elements one expects from 'Tales of the FEAR Agent' - it's witty and well-drawn.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Crate Digging: Strictly Leakage

by Atmosphere

This project began life as a random free download, then became a giveaway with "When Life Gives You Lemons", before taking its place as an individual release.

This is basically Atmosphere cutting loose for a bit, and having a good time. These are all party songs, with uptempo beats and amusing lyrics.

Slug and Ant are clearly having a good time with this, and songs like 'YGM', 'Little Math You', and 'Get It To Get Her' show that. 'You Played Yourself' has Sean speaking to the type of people that he probably encounters all the time on tour.

This is a great Atmosphere album - perfect party background.

Popgun Volume One

Edited by Mark Andrew Smith and Joe Keatinge

I love the idea of melding music and comics into a 'graphic mixtape'. The concept of being able to have a diverse and varied sampling of different artists, writers, and cartoonists is a strong one, although there are some places where the mixtape analogy is also what causes my complaints about this ambitious project.

Just like a real mixtape, this has some stuff in it that doesn't really fit. There are a few stories that are clearly meant for children, yet other parts of the book contain curses and sexual material (without nudity). It makes me wonder who the intended audience for this book really is.

My other complaint is that many of the stories are too short - just getting my interest before they are over.

On the other hand, this book contains some brilliant comics. I especially liked Jonathan Hickman's short appearance, as well as Mark Sable and Rob Guillory's strange midget Jonah Hex tale. Tim Seely and Jeremy Dale contribute an excellent zombie love story, and Erik Larsen's Cheeseburger Head might be the best thing I've ever seen him do. Joe Flood's story is nice, as is Chris Moreno's Ninja Platypus. Marcus White and Ed Tadem's ghost story is good, as is Richard Starking and Phil Yeh's historical examination of Genghis Khan. Robert Love and David Walker contribute 'The Blind Monkey Style', an Afro-Samurai/Ghost Dog kind of Daredevil story, which should be a regular series.

The two stories that really seem to take the 'mixtape' aspect seriously are Moritat's excellent tale of a struggling jazz musician, and Jim Mahfood's story of unrequited love.

Parts of this book are brilliant, some are merely average, and only a few stories were distasteful. I would like to see more from some of these artists, and look forward to getting ahold of volumes 2 and 3.

Crate Digging: Sad Clown Bad Spring #12

by Atmosphere

As Winter gives over finally to spring, the focus is much more on telling strong, visual stories. 'Less One' is about an angry police officer. 'Good Daddy' is a lovely song about a young father, with a strange (and slightly predictable) twist at the end. 'Carry Me Home' is one of the more emotional songs this band has ever written, and it ties strongly into the themes of 'When Life Gives You Lemons'. 'Not Another Day' displays Slug's ability to spin a nice tale again, as he tells a few stories of people who struggle to get through their daily life.

The beats on this EP are very jazzy and catchy. This is probably the strongest of the four 'season' episodes of the Sad Clown Bad Dub series.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ms. One & The Gang

by Georgia Anne Muldrow (more or less)

It seems there is a lot of music coming out of the FroLabs these days - as both Georgia Anne Muldrow and Dudley Perkins have put out lengthy albums this month.

This album dropped a couple of months ago, and so far as I can tell, it's a whole whack of different artists, most of whom sound a lot like Dudley and Georgia Anne, singing or rapping over Georgia Anne's beats.

This is a very funky, soulful album, as Muldrow proves once again that she is one of the most exciting producers working in hip-hop right now. The sound is very laid-back Madlib-ish in places, but with the usual G&D sensibilities, as songs come out in favour of love and peace, and against war.

I have no clue who these other artists are - aside from Perkins, the only other ones I recognize are Eagle Nebula and Stacy Epps, and I can't help but feel that one or two of them are Georgia Anne herself, pulling a 'Generals' on us.

Regardless, this is a very cohesive album for having so many cooks in the kitchen, and it's very nice to just lay back and groove to.

From Hell

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Eddie Campbell

I've always understood why Alan Moore is the most celebrated comic writer of all time. I first was exposed to his work on Swamp Thing, and from there dabbled into a variety of titles like Miracleman, Supreme, Top Ten, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and of course, books like V for Vendetta and The Watchmen. What I don't understand is why he isn't more celebrated for this book than anything else he's written. It's easily the most compelling and original of all his work.

From Hell, for anyone who hasn't seen the horrible movie (yet another standard Alan Moore occurence), is a scholarly and impartial examination of the Jack the Ripper murders of the late 19th Century. Moore has done a voluminous amount of research, and depicts events as they are believed to have happened.

Perhaps the most gripping parts of this book, for me at least, are the lengthy and informative footnotes, which serve to both prove the veracity of the text, and to illuminate the reader further into any number of related topics.

Moore's story is not just of an aristocratic murderer, secret societies, prostitutes, and inspectors; it is the story of Victorian London itself. Almost any important figure from that time you can think of makes an appearance, and London's architecture gets a good going over. Eddie Campbell is just as fastidious as Moore when it comes to depicting the time, and his art has the effect of perfectly recreating Whitechapel in all its muck and glory.

What really grabbed me was the way Moore incorporated any number of fakes and phonies, such as the man in 1960s London who claims to see a Victorian man and woman walk past his window late nights - Moore has Dr. Gull, our Ripper, peer into a window and see that same man. Later, Gull has any number of visions of our modern world, adding a strong supernatural feel to the story.

This is a masterpiece of comics art, and is the book people should turn to when attempting to argue for comics as a form of literature.

Crate Digging: Sad Clown Bad Winter #11

by Atmosphere

Winter in Minneapolis must be cold. I know it's much worse than anything I see in Toronto. How then, does it affect Atmosphere? Well, I guess there's nothing better to do than 'drink your remedies and forget about your problems', as we are encouraged to do on 'Ha, This One is About Alcohol Too' (which I might add, is one of the best song titles ever).

I picture Slug and Ant snowed in, and having plenty of time to get on people's nerves, hence songs like 'They All Get Mad at You'.

I'm not sure I can take this any further. This is a fun EP.


by Billy Woods

I'm very thankful for that fact that Backwoodz Studioz decided to re-release this album. It's considered to be Billy Wood's debut, even though he goes to some length in the liner notes to credit it as a collaboration with Bond and Vodul Megallah, who appears on a number of tracks.

It definitely sounds like a Bond album - even the tracks he didn't produce have that recognizable feel, with random samples, and a dirge-like quality to the music.

Woods sounds fantastic here - all of the clever wordplay and literary references he's known for are present, and songs like 'Amazing Grace' are perfect exemplars of his talent. Vordul provides a nice counterpoint to Wood's flow, as does Thrill Gates, who also shows up for a couple of tracks.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Changes of Atmosphere

by Dela

If you close your eyes, and imagine what an album by a producer whose name conjures up both De La Soul and J Dilla, featuring artists like Talib Kweli, J-Live, J. Sands, Elzhi, Large Professor, Blu, Les Nubians, and their like, sounds like, I'm sure you'd come up with the exact sound on display on this disk.

Dela, who hails from France, plays with some very nice jazz loops, and puts out a strong example of underground hiphop that could have been released at any time in the last ten years. It has a timeless quality to it, and wears its Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Dilla influences proudly on its sleeve.

This is a nice chill album to listen to on a rainy Sunday afternoon...

Chronicle of an Escape

Directed by Adrián Caetano

This is one of the more suspenseful and gripping movies that I've seen in a very long time. Claudio (Rodrigo de la Serna) is a soccer player who is picked up one day by some men in Pinochet's Argentina. He is taken to a large house, where he is question, beaten, and confined for more than 100 days. Eventually, he and three other prisoners, some of whom actually were involved in anti-government activities, are able to escape. The events in the film are true.

The film does an excellent job of portraying the psychological effects of this confinement on the men, as some develop Stockholm Syndromed and others do little more than lie around and cringe.

The scene of the escape is taut and exciting, and utterly filled with dread. That two of the escapees later testify against the government is established at the very beginning of the film, but that knowledge worked to make me fear for the other two, as I expected disaster at any moment.

This is not an easy film to watch, but it is a rewarding one.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Never Better

Never Betterby P.O.S

Musically, I consider the period from the summer of 2008 to now as the 'Year of Doomtree', as I picked up and listened to a lot of product from this Minneapolis group, of which this album would have to be the highlight.

P.O.S is the first of the Doomtree crew to come to my attention, with his excellent "Audition" album of a few years ago, which this present album surpasses in every way.

First, "Never Better" is beautifully packaged. The cd is packed in a stiff plastic casing, which contains a number of acetate inserts, which can be rearranged to design a custom look. It's a cool idea.

The album itself perfectly blends Stef's punk and rap roots, as discussed in 'Out of Category'. It starts with 'Let it Rattle', where Stef asks "Who really listens?/ Precision with a verse draws a crowd/I draw a line between an easy melody/ and piece on mind," explaining the ethos at work throughout the album.

On 'Optimist' (with its fantastic plastic-cup beat) and 'Purexed', P.O.S eschews the typical boasting of rap and punk, and instead speaks honestly about struggle and growth. This album is both personal and accessible. Other favorite tracks include 'Savion Glover' and 'Been Afraid', which showcases Stef's considerable talents as a storyteller.

'Low Light Low Life' is the only track where other Doomtree members pick up the mic, and Stef is joined by Sims and Dessa (who murders the track). He provides many of his own beats, but is also joined by Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger and MK Larada. This album deserves to be recognized as a classic.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hellblazer #257

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini

I continue to be torn by Milligan's run on Hellblazer. The first arc, with the scabs, I liked a lot. The plague doctor story didn't really do it for me. This current story, wherein John gives a love potion to both Phoebe and Julian the Ekkimu, is much more interesting.

There is a lot of good character work in this issue, as John starts to see some of the consequences of his actions, and, being John, pushes things a lot further as he tries to overcome his addiction to Julian's dead skin. I'm very curious to see how this storyline ends.

The next arc is going to be drawn by Simon Bisley, and if it looks like this cover, I'm going to be passing.

Crate Digging: Sad Clown Bad Fall

by Atmosphere

As summer turns to fall, the songs become more about partying, drugs, and women. Not that they weren't about that in summer, it's just different. Maybe it's because there are more synths on this EP? Or they're just more noticeable?

I'm not sure what it is, but there is definitely a slightly darker feel to this album. I don't know if they were trying to match theme to each of the seasons or not, but it I find it interesting to go through each of these EPs thematically.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #4

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, with David Lafuente and Charity Larrison

Gillen and McKelvie are taking some big risks with this title, and doing some interesting things. So far, each issue has been set in the same club, and the same events are being shown from different viewpoints, but not in a Rashoman style - the events over-lap more than coincide.

This issue shines the spotlight on Seth Bingo and Silent Girl, the DJs at the club. We see only their side of any conversation and/or song request, and the camera never moves from the confines of their booth - Gillen basically wrote an issue that could be very easily adapted to a very tiny stage.

As to how this issue works in regards to the entire series? I think it's a little too early to tell. I do know that when the last issue comes out, and I want to re-read the whole thing, this is the book that's going to require the most attention.

Jack of Fables #36

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Tony Akins and Jose Marzan Jr.

I guess that Willingham and Sturges took a month off after their giant crossover, and as they are working on JSA and other titles now, as this issue is written by Chris Roberson, who I've never heard of before.

Whoever he is, he has a good feel for Jack, and the way flashback stories in this book tend to work. In this issue, Jack tells Gary about his time as 'Lord of the Jungle', when he came across a group of talking Fable apes in Western Africa back in the day.

This is a fun, amusing story. It brings back a lot of the elements that I'd missed in the book the last few months. The art, as usual, is excellent.

I don't want to see Willingham and Sturges leave this title for long, but I think that Roberson would be a good person to tap into for future one-offs like this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Generation Kill

by Evan Wright

When I watched the HBO version of Generation Kill, I was immersed in the activities of the Recon Marines who basically led the way into Iraq for the American forces during their invasion. The thing was, I felt that the TV series didn't provide any context to the activities of the Marines, and I decided to seek out the original book, which is itself based on a series of articles Wright wrote for Rolling Stone.

The problem is, the book doesn't add much context or background either. It is definitely a page-turner - especially the first half - but the reader, like the Marines, never really get to see past the next corner, or over the next berm, as would be more appropriate. The different people that Wright travels with for the thirty-odd days he was embedded with First Recon rarely develop into more than just a character sketch. Even the soldiers that rode in the same Humvee as him remain mercurial and unknowable. There are plenty of details shared, but they don't seem to add up to full people.

Beyond that, this is a very readable book. The first half are full of Marine hijinks and command screw-ups. As the book progresses, and First Recon's role in the war becomes more and more unclear, it slowly changes into a mild condemnation of American policy. Wright never explicitly trashes the war or leadership himself, but he does allow his Marines to have their say, and he does provide a clear window into a tiny corner of the war effort.

This book is at its best when it deals with the ineffective officers, from Captain America, Encino Man and Casey Kasem, right up to Godfather himself. I would like to think that this book would have resulted in at least some of these men being demoted, but as is shared in the afterward, they all advanced in their careers. This book won't survive as one of the classic pieces of literature of this war - I'm sure those are still to come - but it does stand as both a testament to the skills and heart of the men fighting it, and the lack of planning and forethought of the people who orchestrated it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Glad to be Canadian: Like I Was Jesus

by Rachel Aviv

Okay, so the article clearly says that the Child Evangelism Fellowship is at work proselytizing to little kids in 158 countries, but I still felt that this article helped to add a little to my sense of geographical superiority.

Aviv spent time last summer with the young evangelists of the CEF, as they ran camp-like activities for children in poor Connecticut neighbourhoods, with the express purpose of 'saving' kids as young as six years old. They have a few tools, such as the EvangeCube, designed to help them in this purpose, and they have lengthy discussions about how to simplify the basic tenets of Christianity into statements consisting of single-syllable words.

Aviv questions, of course, whether or not the children have any real understanding of what is going on when they work through their ABC's (A: Admit you are a sinner; B: Believe that Jesus went on the cross and died for your sins; C: Choose to accept Him). The proof, as provided by missionary-free follow-up visits she conducted, is that the efforts are largely wasted, or at least, not as valued as the young missionaries seem to think.

What always amazes me about stories like this is how many people seem to be willing to dive into a project that effectively replaces a person's system of belief with another, because the volunteers assume they know better. I suppose this article makes me 'Glad to be Canadian' because it's a world view I almost automatically associate with Americans.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Crate Digging: Sad Clown Bad Summer

by Atmosphere

In many ways, this short, five-song EP showcases the absolute best of Atmosphere. This was released as a preview to 'When Life Gives You Lemons', and contains some of the first songs that feature a live band backing Slug.

'Sunshine' is the quintessential summer song, echoing Fresh Prince's classic from years ago. In it, Slug raps about waking up with a hangover, and being cured by a beautiful day. It contains the rhyme, "Every day that passes is a success/ And every woman looks better in a sundress," basically summing up much of the band's philosophies on life.

'The Number One' and 'Don't Forget' are both reflective songs, wherein Sean looks back at his youth. The first song talks about his earliest experiences with girls, while the second details his early love of music and Cadillacs.

'RFTC' showcases Slug's strong storytelling abilities, as we hear about a guy tagging trains in a yard one night, who runs into a police officer. 'Mattress' follows up on another standard Atmosphere theme - regret.

If you ever want to introduce this group to a potential fan, this is the way to do it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Glad to be Canadian: Sheriff Joe

by William Finnegan

I've written before about how the United States continuously baffles me. It, as a country, has been responsible for so many achievements in the sciences, arts, literature, pop culture, etc., etc., and yet, it is also home to so much intolerance, weirdness, depravity, and hatred. I decided to start a feature on this blog called 'Glad to be Canadian', for those times when I come across things that remind me of how lucky I am to live up here, as opposed to in the US.

This article profiles Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (including Phoenix). He has gained some small levels of fame for marketing himself as 'America's Toughest Sheriff', a title based on his efforts to humiliate and degrade prisoners in his county's jails. He is famous for having set up tents in under-used industrial parks, and fencing them in to create Tent City Jails, as a solution for over-crowding. He has prisoners wear pink underwear, and shackles them in pink hand-cuffs, not due to any supposed psychological benefit, but because it humiliates them, and amuses him. He has also decided to wage a one-county war against illegal immigration, and goes to such extreme measures that people become afraid to leave their homes.

Finnegan's well-written article doesn't criticize much; it instead allows Arpaio to dig his own rhetorical graves. The man comes off as a total publicity-hound, who is attempting to tap into the fears of red-neck Arizona as a way of orchestrating his own rise to stardom. Finnegan catches him inflating or massaging the facts a few times, which only adds to his foolish image.

What amazes me is that this man can be so succesful. He is expecting to win a sixth term as sheriff in 2012. I don't understand how such a man can keep his position. Between 2004 and 2008, his department was sued 2200 times - a truly astronomical figure.

In Canada, this man wouldn't keep his job - not even in Alberta. This article makes me Glad to be Canadian.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Young Liars #17

by David Lapham

I'm going to openly admit that I'm as confused as ever by this issue, and have absolutely no idea how Lapham is going to finish off this title in one issue.

Johnny/Danny is in a bad place - Loreli/Sadie hates him, Jackie/Annie is in trouble with the Cleaners, Puss Bag is in Browning, and now he also can dream the future.

This title has been an enjoyable roller coaster ride from the beginning, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all ends.

Crate Digging: The Fun EP (Happy Clown Bad Dub Eight)

by Atmosphere

I love the Happy Clown Bad Dub EPs that Atmosphere puts out between albums.

This is a fun little EP, featuring two alternatives to tracks off of 'You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having', and five other songs that didn't make it onto that album.

You know you can never go wrong with a cd if it has a song on it called "Horny Ponycorn Horns".

DMZ #43

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

I'm quite enjoying this arc of DMZ. Wood has been shining a light on those gas mask guys who have been popping up since the book started, and there is a lot of potential in their story.

The protagonist in this arc is promoted into the higher reaches of the cult this issue, after completing a difficult task for his leader. I like the way Wood really digs into the psychology of people in this type of situation, and it's clear that he has, once again, really done his research.

I know sales have been slipping on DMZ, which is a shame, as it is one of the best books that Vertigo produces.

Robotika: For a Few Rubles More Double-Size #1&2

Written by Alex Sheikman and David Moran
Art by Alex Sheikman

Were it not for the inclusion of Chew #1 with The Walking Dead, this would be this week's best value buy for certain. As part of their return to publishing, Archaia is doubling up issues of some of their titles, and then selling them at a $4.99 price point, which is a lot of comics at a decent price.

This issue contains the first two chapters of the second Robotika series. I never read the first one, but tend to like Archaia's books, and decided that this would be worth trying out. I'm glad I got it, as it's a very good title.

As a first issue, it kind of assumes that the reader is already familiar with the characters and the setting, which I wasn't, but there was enough going on here that I was immediately intrigured, and hooked.

Robotika is a gritty, Japanese-influenced cyber-punk Western. Do I need to say much more than that? Sheikman's art is fantastic - it has a very French look to it, and the story unfolds at a nice pace. I'm going to hunt down the first trade now, and am looking forward to the next issue, which is supposedly coming out in August.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Air #11

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

Here's another good issue of this title. In this issue, we check in with Blythe, who makes her first solo flight to Air One, where she runs in to the Gypsy guy she met a little while ago. As is a recurring theme in this title, he obviously wants something from her, and as usual, she's a little clueless.

This is actually one of the things I find refreshing about this title. Blythe, as the protagonist, is really just reacting to events over and over again. It is rare to find a series based on a female character like this to begin with, but even more rare to then portray her in such a state of prolonged confusion. It makes her seem a lot more real.

I like the cover to this issue as well. As this is largely a series about symbols, it makes sense that the cover doesn't accurately give an idea of what is going on in the book, but instead uses imagery to suggest what is happening at a thematic level.

Olympus #3

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Christian Ward

I'm continuing to enjoy this title a great deal. As the penultimate chapter of the series, this issue has a lot going on. There is some exposition as to just who Pelops is (grade 9 Classics was a long time ago), and some nice, if short, action sequences.

As before, this book stands out because of its art, which continues to have a frenetic and psychedelic quality to it.

This title is recommended.

Fables #86

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton

The Great Fables Crossover has ended, and Willingham has wisely chosen to give us a one-off issue, revealing some of the history of Mr. Dark, the new big bad in Fabletown.

In this issue, we are given a story about the Boxers - the mages employed in the Empire to contain wild magic - and how they came to box up Dark. This is a good issue, providing some much-needed exposition to help set this newest threat up as a big deal.

The best thing about this issue is the guest art by Jim Fern and Craig Hamilton. I like Fern's work (seen most recently in the excellent Crossing Midnight) before, but when inked by Hamilton, it really comes alive. The figures in this book look great.

I Heard It Today

by Mr. Lif

It's clear from the very beginning of this album that Mr. Lif is not exactly impressed with the way things are going in America today, and he's using most of this album to express his opinions and call people out.

It's become increasingly rare for a hip-hop artist to take a stance on anything that's actually important, and I like that he's not easily lulled into submission by Obama's massive popularity. Songs like 'What About Us?' and 'I Heard it Today' rail against government, bankers, and people in the real estate market. Lif's writing is more intelligent than ever, and his messages deserve to be heard by a wide audience.

In terms of production, this album is a little light. Most of the beats are by some guy named Batsauce (such an unfortunate name), although there are contributions from Edan, J-Zone, Therapy, Headnodic, and Willie Evans Jr (who needs to do more stuff). The over-all sound would fit well within the Def Jux catalogue, although there is no sign of El-P on this album.

Resurrection #2

Written by Mark Guggenheim
Art by Justin Greenwood and Pat Bollin

I'm very pleased to see that this series is back, and back on schedule. In this second issue, we get a little better idea of what has been going on with Sara and Ben, the two protagonists of the first run. It would appear that they have found some haven in the town of Red Lion, which is a massive gated/walled community.

The town is more or less run by a guy named Morrell, who has something going on in a heavily guarded bank. Guggenheim is taking the time to set up some intriguing new characters, and lots of story potential.

Greenwood is a good choice for this book - his art looks a fair amount like Ryan Ottley to me, and it fits the tone of the story. I think the move to colour has been a good one for this title.

The Walking Dead #63 / Chew #1

Written by Robert Kirkman and John Layman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Rob Guillory

Okay, so The Walking Dead #63 is definitely the deal of the week, as it includes the entire first issue of Chew, at no extra charge.

Even without the extra, The Walking Dead is well-worth the purchase, as this is another excellent issue of the best series Image puts out. In this issue, everyone looks for Dale, and then goes to that new guy's church. As usual, the level of tension builds throughout the issue, and at the end, we get to check in on Dale and the people who took him last issue.

I'll admit - that 'big reveal' was a little predictable. I'm not sure that type of thing makes sense in The Walking Dead universe, as it hasn't been all that long since the zombie thing started happening, but I don't want to spoil it.

Including Chew on the back of this book is an interesting idea. I picked up the first issue when it came out, flipped through it, and decided I wasn't really interested and put it back on the stands. Of course, a week after that, it was selling at massive prices on Ebay, and I immediately regretted my non-purchase.

Beyond that though, reading it for free in black and white, I have to say it's a good comic. I don't know why the internet would have decided to make this the 'must-have' book of 2009 though.

Chew is set in the near-future, after poultry has been outlawed due to bird flu, and pushed underground into Chicken joint speakeasies. Tony Chu is a police officer with the ability to gain psychic imprints off of the things he eats. In this issue, he realizes that a guy working in a chicken restaurant is a serial killer and confronts him.

This issue does a good job of setting up an interesting premise. The art is a little looser than what usually appeals to me, and I think that is what turned me off the book in the first place. It's definitely an interesting concept, and it's played here for laughs. I guess I'll look for the 2nd issue, if that's even possible now, and see how I feel about the series.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rasl #5

by Jeff Smith

Okay, so Smith has decided to turn out less pages, more frequently, making the book only 22 pages, but trying to put it out five times a year. I'm perfectly okay with that, as it means that the story will be coming into my hands more often, and with less time between issues to forget what has gone before. Cool.

Thing is, I don't feel like a whole lot happened in this issue, and I don't want to see the book become 'decompressed' but more frequent.

Rob chats with his girl, and flashes back to his former girl. He also sweats a lot, and bleeds from the nose. There are some hints as to where the story is going - the undiscovered Tesla journals make an appearance, which is surely going to have some significance, but that's about it.

The coolest part of this issue would be during the flashback, where the weird mask that Rob wears while jumping makes an appearance on a wall with some other 'African' style artifacts, suggesting that he only wears it to look cool..... It's a small touch, but I liked it.

The Killer #9

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

I'm really glad to see that Archaia is going to finish publishing this book. This issue is about a year behind schedule, and that made it a little difficult to slip back into the story, but eventually everything came back to me, and I was able to enjoy the penultimate issue of this fantastic French comic.

In this issue, the killer is finally able to piece together who has been making things difficult for him, and now he's only left with one task - to kill them of course.

This isn't exactly the strongest issue of this title, but it's still very good. Sometimes this book suffers, like I Am Legion does, from the translation process - in France, this is only the first half of the fifth book. It chops up the story somewhat arbitrarily, although it works fine in this case.

I hope it's not another year before I finally get to see the end of this title.

Scalped #30

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

I've lost count of how many times I've read an issue of Scalped and been blown away by the quality of it. This title really does just keep getting better and better with almost every issue.

This issue starts off the 5-part arc, "The Gnawing", and it seems that a lot of things are going to be happening in the next little while. Bad Horse has a strange run in with Catcher, before being told by Red Crow that he has to find an FBI mole on the rez (which, of course, is him). As well, it looks like things are going to really heat up between Red Crow and the Hmong, as the consequences for his attacking Mr. Brass look to be major.

It feel a little like Aaron is moving the story closer to a big finish with this new arc. A lot of long-standing plot lines could get resolved here. What makes this book so brilliant though are the smaller character-based moments that get sprinkled around the issue. I particularly like Granny's story about how the world is held up, which leads to the title for this arc.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Waltz With Bashir

Written by Ari Folman
Art by David Polonsky

I need to preface any discussion of this graphic novel by saying that I have not yet watched the film version of 'Waltz with Bashir', of which this is the graphic novelization. I do now want to see the film, and I'm going to be looking to rent it this week-end for sure.

In this book, the narrator (who I assume is Ari Folman) is disturbed by the fact that he can not recall any of the events he was present for during Israel's war with Lebanon in 1982, specifically the massacre that took place in Sabra and Shatila.

He embarks on a quest to talk to the people that were there with him, and attempt to reconstruct his memories. He also speaks to psychiatrists, journalists, and others. As he works through this, he also examines the events of the massacre, which was perpetrated by Phalangist Christians against Palestinians in Lebanon in the wake of the murder of Bashir, a popular political leader.

The big draw of this book for me was the art. It has the same look as The Shooting War, with its heavy use of computer colouring and images layered on top of photographs. There are sequences, especially the one involving a boy and an RPG, where the art appears to be three-dimensional. This is a beautifully illustrated book, and the image of young Isreali soldiers driving armoured vehicles through the Lebanese night, and just shooting blindly, is one that will stick with me.


by The Super Chron Flight Brothers

Ever since their Emergency Powers album, I have been patiently waiting for something new from the SCF Brothers. I am a huge fan of Billy Woods and his unique style of rapping, and I don't think he could have a better partner than Priviledge - they off-set each other so nicely.

This album has been released two ways. There is the free download, but there is also a super-limited double cd, the first disc of which is the album, the second being a hodge-podge of remixes and instrumentals. Being a fan, I of course had to buy the actual cd.

The album is nice. It's mostly been produced by Marmaduke, who has done some work with The Reavers, the super-group that SCFB are a part of. Most additional production is by Dr. Monokrome, also a familiar name around the Backwoodz. They continue to experiment with these songs, pushing the beats deeper into the realm of electronica.

Woods and Priviledge continue with their usual original lyrics, which reference politics, The Wire, and literature. Apparently they are working on a new album, and this was just a side project. I hope that means we won't have to wait too long before we get to hear it.